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Chapter 21

ONCE more Jessie found herself alone in the little chamber where her gentle girlish life, had strengthened towards womanhood. Many times had she visited this chamber since her marriage, going to it as to some pilgrim-shrine, but never with the feelings that now crowded upon her heart. She had returned as a dove, to the ark from the wild waste of waters, wing-weary, faint, frightened--fluttering into this holy place, conscious of safety. She was not to go out again. Blessed thought! How it warmed the life-blood in her heart, and sent the currents in more genial streams through every vein.

But alas! memory could not die. Lethe was only a fable of the olden times. A place of safety is not always a place of freedom from pain. It could not be so in this instance. Yet, for a time, like the exhausted prisoner borne back from torture to his cell, the crushed members reposed in delicious insensibility. The hard pallet was a heaven of ease to the iron rack on which the quivering flesh had been torn, and the joints wrenched, until nature cried out in agony.

Dear little room! Though its walls were narrow, and its furniture simple even to meagreness, it was a palace in her regard to the luxurious chambers she had left. It was all her own. She need not veil her heart there. No semblances were required. No intrusion feared. It seemed to her, for a time, as if she had been so lifted out of the world, as to be no longer a part of it. The hum and shock of men were far below her. She had neither part nor lot in common humanity.

But this could not last. She had formed relations with that world not to be cast off lightly. She was a wife, violently separated from her husband; and setting at defiance the laws which had bound them together.

On the third day Mrs. Dexter received a communication from her husband. It was imperative, reading thus:

"MRS. DEXTER--I have twice sought to gain an interview, and twice been repelled with insult. I now write to ask when and where you will see me. We must meet, Jessie. This rash step, I fear, is going to involve consequences far more disastrous than you have imagined. It is no light thing for a woman to throw herself beyond the pale of her husband's protection.--Something is owed to the world--something to reputation--something to your good name; and much to your husband. I may have been hasty, but I was sincere. There are some things that looked wrong; they look wrong still, and will always look wrong if your present attitude is maintained. I wish to see you, that we may, together, review these unhappy questions, and out of a tangled skein bring even threads, if possible. Let me hear from you immediately.

"YOUR HUSBAND."

Twice Mrs. Dexter read this letter, hurriedly at first, but very slowly the second time; weighing each word and sentence carefully. She then laid it aside, and almost crouching down in her chair, fell into such deep thought that she seemed more like one sleeping than awake. She did not attempt an answer until the next day. Then she penned the following:

"To LEON DEXTER--In leaving your house and your protection, I was not governed by caprice or impulse. For some time I have seen that, sooner or later, it must come to this; that the cord uniting us was too severely strained, and must snap. I did not suppose the time so near at hand--that you would drag upon it now with such a sudden force. But the deed is done, and we are apart forever. I cannot live with you again--your presence would suffocate me. There was a mutual wrong in our marriage; but I was most to blame; for I knew that I did not and never could love you as I believed a husband should be loved. But you had extorted from me a promise of marriage, and I believed it to be my duty to fulfill that promise. Young, inexperienced, blind to the future, I took up the burdens you laid at my feet, and believed myself strong enough to carry them all the days of my life. It was a fatal error. How painfully I have struggled on--how prayerfully, how patiently, how self-denyingly, you can never know. Yet, without avail. I have fallen by the way, and there is not strength enough in me to lift the burdens again. I know this, and One besides; and I am content to rest the case with Him. The world will blame--the church censure--the law condemn. Let it be so. All that is light to the sufferings I have endured, and from which I have fled.

"I cannot see you, Mr. Dexter--I will not see you. Our ways in this world have parted, and forever. The act was not mine, but yours. You flung me off with a force that overcame all scruple--all question of right--all effort to cling to you as my husband. I was trying, in my feeble way--for not much power remained--to be a dutiful wife, when you extinguished all hope of success by a charge as false as the evil spirit who whispered in your too willing ears a suspicion of infidelity against one who had never permitted a thought of wrong towards her husband to enter even the outermost portal of her mind. I had not seen the person to whom you allude since my accidental meeting with him at Newport, so basely construed into design; and his passing my window at the moment you returned home, was as unexpected to me as to you.

"I had hoped that my previous solemn assurances were sufficient to give you confidence in my integrity. But this was an error. You had no faith in me; and assailed me with violence when my thoughts were as true to honor as ever were yours. Did you imagine that I could lie passive at your feet, so trampled down and degraded? No, sir! God gave me a higher consciousness--a purer spirit--a nobler individuality! You should have mated one of a different stamp from me!

"And yet I pity you, Leon Dexter! This web of trouble, which your own hands have woven around your life, will fetter and gall you at every step in your future journey. I have not left you in a spirit of retaliation; but simply because the natural strain of repulsion was stronger than all the attractive forces that held us together. I only obeyed a law against which weak nature strove in vain. Were it in my power, I would make all your future bright with the warmest sunshine. But over your future I have no control--yet, sadly enough, are our destinies linked, and the existence of each will be a thorn in the other's heart.

"I have not much strength left. The contest has nearly extinguished my life. This is the last struggle I shall have with you. My first weak thought was to return your letter without a word in reply. But that would have been a wrong to both; and so I have made you this communication, and you must regard it as final. Farewell, unhappy Leon Dexter! I would have saved you from this calamity, but you would not let me! May He who has permitted you thus to drag down the temple of domestic happiness, and bury yourself amid the ruins, give you, in this direful calamity, a higher than human power of endurance. May the fierce flames of this great ordeal, find gold in your character beyond the reach of fire. Farewell, forever! and may God bless and keep you! The prayer is from a heart yet free from guile, and the lips that breathe it upward are as pure as when you laid upon them the marriage kiss! God keep them as guileless and as pure! Amen!

"JESSIE."

Dexter accepted the decision of his wife as final. What else was left for him? He would have been the dullest of men not to have seen the spirit of this answer, shining everywhere through the letter. Something more than feebly dawned the conviction in his mind, that he had foully wronged his wife, and that the fearful calamity which had overtaken him in the morning of his days, was of his own creating. He did not again attempt to see her; made no further remonstrance; offered no kind of annoyance. A profound respect for the suffering woman who had abandoned him, took the place of indignation against her. In silence he sat down amid his crushed hopes and broken idols, and waited for light to guide him and strength to walk onward. Like thousands of other men, he had discovered that a human soul was not a plaything, nor a piece of machinery to wind up and set in motion at will; and like thousands of other men, he had made this discovery too late.


T.S. Arthur

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